By Hillary Steinberg
At the close of spring semester of 2013, Stony Brook University put out a press release detailing a new Center for Men and Masculinities, headed by resident sociology professor Dr. Michael Kimmel. Masculinities studies is a facet of gender studies, and was described by him as “international and interdisciplinary.” The center will be an offshoot of the sociology department, but the subject of masculinities is primarily based on empirical data from the social sciences and humanities. The center will further the expansion of the field by meeting the research needs of activists globally.
Contrary to a belief held by some, masculinities studies is not at odds with women’s studies or feminism. It is the study of the male experience within our society, and that is not considered entirely separate from men’s relationship to women. It is considered essential to take these into consideration to understand the lives of men and how society has shaped their viewpoint. The field emerged in the late 1970s, largely by the influence of the National Organization of Men Against sexism, an explicitly pro-feminist group. Because it is still considered new, it draws upon multiple frameworks, including feminist, queer and multicultural, diverging from the already existing masculinities psychology and converging more towards feminism. Scholarly journals on the subject starting emerging in the late 1990s.
Masculinities studies has encountered backlash. Dr. Michael Kimmel conceded “it’s very hard to talk about the superordinate.” He noted that men’s studies should be distinguished from masculinities studies. Men’s studies is the idea that there comes a necessity to study men basically because there is a study of women, and is historically anti-feminist. Masculinity studies is the idea that gender inequality has affected men and distorted perceptions. The center acknowledges that there are many centers for the research of women. In fact, one of the models for the center is the Center for Research of Women at Wellesley. Similarly, despite outcry that the advisory board features a number of women, Dr. Kimmel said, “If I’m going to look at gender, most of the people who are experts on gender, who invented the field are going to be women.”
Issues to do with social equality in the context of men are far reaching socially and are global. Dr. Kimmel detailed a few examples, citing “from everything to HIV risk reduction to involved fatherhood to violence against women to reproductive health and rights.” Issues to do with the masculine side of gender equality can be subtle. For example, when a teenage girl becomes pregnant and chooses to have an abortion, often she is given options to birth control and taught how to engage in safer sex, preventing further pregnancy. The teenage boy who had unsafe sex with her is rarely taught safer sex or preventative measures, even if he goes with her to the abortion . He is far more likely to engage in unsafe sex in the future. Similarly, teenage fathers are far more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug abuse, and are less likely to finish high school.
The center will house a conference in March of 2015 that will run concurrently with the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. The commission is described on its official site as “the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women.” However, activists coming there will be engaged by the center shortly prior to the meeting at the UN in a way that works with the American Men’s Studies Association to exam issues of gender equality that affect men. After this, scholars from around the world will discuss research opportunities at Stony Brook. This conference looks to marry real world issues within masculinities and the resources available to scholars, both in funding and in literature, in order to produce studies that adequately address them. This is reflective of a method called Participatory Action Research, characterized by interacting with a community in order to generate action concretely with research. This will hopefully attract more scholars to the discipline and center.
Currently, the center is hosting scholars and many of them will be holding monthly seminars, alternating between the Stony Brook and Manhattan campuses. Students will be accepted for masters in Masculinity Studies in 2017.